Creating your own WordPress theme is a great way to learn about the inner workings of the world’s most popular CMS. It also means that you can customize things to your liking, while utilizing only the scripts and styles that you need. When well-crafted, the result can be a theme that is both lightweight and functional.
If you’ve dabbled in editing themes (or, more safely, child themes) but want to take it up a notch, then this article is for you.
If you’re a complete beginner, you’ll also find information to help get you started. And, even if you’re a veteran at theme creation, it’s still a good idea to have some helpful resources at hand.
Why Create Your Own Themes?
While we discussed a few of the reasons above, let’s dive a little deeper into the topic. There are three key reasons why you’d want to create your own WordPress theme:
1. To Build it Your Way
Creating something that both looks and functions exactly the way you want is a big selling-point. Having to hack your way through someone else’s theme is a great learning experience, but can be tedious.
You also may run into some barriers when trying to make adjustments. After awhile, it just makes sense to build something that has what you need and leaves out what you don’t. It’s a great way to eliminate bloat and, since you wrote the code, it will also be much easier to maintain.
2. For a Great Starting Point
If you build websites for a living, you may want to use what is called a “starter” theme or theme framework. This is a simple, no frills theme that you can customize to your liking.
For example, a lot of developers (including yours truly) grab a copy of a package like Underscores and build something that they can reuse time and again. You’ll speed up your development process while providing a solid foundation for everything you build.
While this isn’t the same as building a theme from absolute scratch, you’re still taking a blank canvas and turning it into a fully-finished product.
3. For Distribution or Sales
Of course, there is quite a large market out there for free and commercial WordPress themes. Creating a theme others will use lets you share your vision of what a theme should be.
You might build a general purpose theme meant for a wide audience, or something that’s fine-tuned for a niche crowd. Either way, you can get great satisfaction (and maybe even make a living) seeing others utilize your creation.
Theme Development Resources
Now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits of building your own theme, let’s take a look at some resources you can use to help in the process. They run the gamut from code resources to plugins. Each has something unique to offer.
The official WordPress.org Theme Development documentation is a great place to start your journey. You’ll find information about the structure of a theme, coding standards and customization. It’s the most exhaustive resource and one you’ll keep coming back to.
You may also want to give the Theme Handbook a visit.
WordPress Reference Guide
A template tag reference for WordPress 4.0+, you’ll find a nicely categorized list of each tag available to theme developers. Click on a tag to get a definition and an example code snippet.
Hasty is a free service that will help you easily generate custom code for your theme. You’ll be able to quickly generate code for menus, custom post types, sidebars, taxonomies and more. Both metabox and query generators are planned to launch in the near future.
Theme Check is a plugin written and used by folks with the WordPress Theme Review Team.
It will analyze your theme’s code to see if it’s using the latest WordPress standards. For reasons such as security and efficiency, standards do change as WordPress evolves. It’s a good idea to ensure that you aren’t using any outdated, or (gulp) insecure code.
This plugin will make you aware of any deprecated files or functions used in your WordPress theme. It was written by Andrew Nacin, who has been the lead developer on past versions of WP.
Did you know that jQuery is included with WordPress? It can be used to implement jQuery UI elements and more into your site. But there are some procedures to follow in order to fully take advantage of it. Daniel Pataki has written an easy-to-understand guide to help.
This beginner’s tutorial by Tania Rascia has all the basics covered. Even if you have no or very limited experience, you’ll get up and running rather quickly. This is Part one of a three-part series, with the others offering some more advanced tips and techniques.
functions.php file is where a lot of magic happens. You can add support for various features, create navigation menus, enqueue scripts and more.
The folks at WPBeginner have compiled a list of code snippets to help you make the most out of this powerful WordPress theme file.
Ensuring that your code is well-written is a big part of the overall success of your theme (whether it’s available to the public or not). A poorly-coded theme may not work as intended and can also be that much harder to maintain as time goes on. Damian Logghe provides some tips here to help steer you in the right direction.
Your Creation / Your Contribution / Your Way
Creating your own basic WordPress theme can be much simpler than you might imagine. Once you have an understanding of the basic components that make up a theme, it’s really not much more complicated than creating any other type of website.
WordPress, of course, also has its own set of features and tags that you need to be aware of.
While looking at the long list of possibilities may be a bit overwhelming, they are actually there to make your job easier. So much handy functionality has already been coded into WordPress – all it takes is a bit of research to learn how to utilize whichever parts you need.
Using the resources above, along with your own trial and error, will help you take advantage of all that a WordPress theme has to offer.